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Featured Blu-ray review: Animal House and The Blues Brothers

August 11th, 2011

National Lampoon's Animal House - Blu-ray Buy from Amazon and The Blues Brothers - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

I'm combining the Blu-ray reviews for National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers for a number reasons. They were originally released in theaters less than two years apart, came out on Blu-ray the same day, they are both being released by the same studio, and I previously reviewed The Blues Brothers, so that review will be rather short. Another similarity... they're both widely considered the best of their respective franchises, both of which have fallen on hard times. So, have the years been good to them? And are these Blu-ray releases worth picking up

National Lampoon's Animal House - Blu-ray Buy from Amazon

The film begins in 1962 as the new school year begins at Faber College. We are quickly introduced to Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst), who are freshmen and roommates looking to become pledges at a fraternity. Their first attempt is at Omega Theta Pi, but they are not Alpha Male enough for the Omegas. Fortunately Kent has an in with the Delta Tau Chi, as his brother was a member and that makes him a legacy. However, while the Omegas are known for being the best fraternity in terms of grades, social connections, etc., the Deltas are on the opposite end of the scale.

Larry and Kent aren't exactly Delta material either, as they are shy and geeky, and not the outgoing partiers / drunken slobs that populate Delta house. There's Eric "Otter" Stratton, the unofficial leader; Donald "Boon" Schoenstein, Otter's best friend and the only Delta with a steady girlfriend (Katy); D-Day, the tough biker; Robert Hoover, the most presentable of the Deltas; and of course, John "Bluto" Blutarsky, a seventh year pre-med.

There are three main storylines here. Firstly, a romance between Boon and Katy, which is going through a rough patch because Boon isn't exactly the most mature person on campus, or even in Delta House, which is saying a lot. Secondly, there's the new kids in college and how they adjust. Finally, there's the Slobs vs. Snobs battle with Dean Vernon Wormer trying to destroy Delta House, with the eager help of Omega House. Of course, in between those three main stories, there many, many, many funny gags.

So how well does National Lampoon's Animal House live up more than 30 years after its initial release? It is still amazing. It is infinitely quotable, the cast's comedic timing is impeccable, the individual gags almost always hit their marks, the overall plot has been imitated countless times over the years, and the finale is one to remember. It has a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I'm amazed it's that low. Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect score and I'm really can't argue with that. I do have two warnings: The film can be crude and there is a bit of a mean streak to it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but since comedy is a matter of taste, I thought I should bring it up.

The Extras

So the movie is a must have, but how is the Blu-ray? This is where we get into some bad news. It is mostly shovelware. The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion is a 45-minute long making of featurette, which is very in-depth and worth checking out, but it is also just ported over from the 1998 DVD release. (It can also be watched as a Picture-in-Picture track.) Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update treats the movie like it is a documentary and looks at their lives 25 years later. There are two Scene It games, and finally information on the music from the movie.

As for the technical presentation... there's more bad news. To be fair, this was a low-budget movie released in 1978, so one can not expect it to look as good as a first-run release made today would look. That said, the audio and video are merely middling. Details are weak, colors can be inconsistent, shadows swallow up details to an alarming degree. The audio is better, but there's little ambient sound and only the music occasionally appears in the surround sound speakers. Granted, they are both upgrades from the previous DVD releases, but this is far from the best the format has to offer.

The Verdict

National Lampoon's Animal House is one of the best comedies around, but the Blu-ray is weak, to put it mildly. If you don't own the film on DVD, it is still worth picking up, but I don't know if it is worth the upgrade. It's a close call. This film was one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, so I don't know why the studio didn't feel the need to upgrade the video or audio better.

The Blues Brothers - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Six years and probably 1000 reviews ago, my original review was published. I just finished reading it, and apart from a couple typos that slipped past me the first time around, there's really nothing more that needs to be added. It is a must have for fans of Blues music, fans of the two leads, fans of car chase movies, fans of comedies in general. It is a must have.

The Extras

The Blu-ray is the 25th anniversary edition with all the same extras, including the two versions of the film, a nearly hour long making of featurette, a shorter featurette on the music, and a tribute to John Belushi. There are some minor exclusive extras. For instance, the disc is BD-Live enabled, so you can check out unrelated trailers. It's also D-BOX Motion Enabled, so if you have a D-BOX chair, you can bounce around to the car chases. But overall I would call it shovelware.

The video is inconsistent, but only if you are watching the extended edition. The theatrical edition looks amazing for a film that is 30 years old. The details are sharp, the colors are bright, the contrast is strong, the blacks are inky without swallowing details. It's not perfect, and there are a couple issues that pop up here and there, but you can't expect a relatively low-budget film from 1980 to look perfect. It does look so good, that I'm annoyed the studio didn't do more to fix National Lampoon's Animal House. While this applies to the theatrical version, the extended cut has some bigger issues. The parts that were put back into the movie are decidedly weaker than the rest, sometimes so much that the first time through it is a little distracting. However, they are working from much weaker source material, so it is forgivable. The audio is excellent, thank goodness. The music is so important to this film that if they screwed up the audio track, it could have been a deal breaker. Granted, it is not a flawless track, but that's not a big concern, as there are no big problems to report. The film is filled with ambient sound, directional and dynamic effects, and very active bass. It's everything you could hope for.

The Verdict

Saturday Night Live has spawned about a dozen films (it depends on how you classify films like The Rutles) but none have matched their first release: The Blues Brothers. The Blu-ray is mostly shovelware, but the audio and video upgrade is worth the money.

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Filed under: Video Review, National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers